CO130A: Mass Media & Society



Instructor:       Michael Serazio

                        223 Donnarumma Hall, ext. 2839


                        Twitter: @michaelserazio


CO130A: Tuesday and Friday 930a-1045a @ CNS203


Office Hours: Tuesday 300p-500p

                        Thursday 300p-500p

                        Friday 830a-930a

                        Friday 1100a-1200p

                        (and by appointment)


Course Description:


This media literacy course offers theoretical and practical tools to critically analyze media texts, as well as understand different ways in which audiences interact with them.  Students will inquire into how the pervasive mediation of human experience through mass communication channels affects almost every aspect of the socialization processes and people’s symbolic environment.  The interplay between structural constraints conveyed in media’s messages and humans’ capacity to exercise interpretive agency is addressed through lectures, audiovisual examples, hands-on activities, and a variety of assignments aimed at discerning the elements that intervene in construction and reception of media texts, beyond their apparent components. (3 credits)


Course Timeline and Readings:


Tue 22 Jan – Introductions and Overview


Fri 25 Jan – Structure, Agency, and Media Literacy

Read: Textbook Chapter 1

Opening Reflection DUE


Tue 29 Jan – The History of Powerful Media Effects

Read: MENTOR1-(Lazarsfeld & Merton, 1948)

Lazarsfeld, P.F., & Merton, R.K. (1948). VII: Mass communication, popular taste, and organized social action. In L. Bryson (Ed.), The communication of ideas (pp. 95-118). New York: Institute for Religious and Social Studies.

Facebook Posting #1 (Due by midnight before class)


Fri 1 Feb – The Political Economy of Mass Communication

Read: Textbook Chapter 2


Tue 5 Feb – Politics and Media

Read: MENTOR2-(Bagdikian, 2004)

Bagdikian, B. H. (2004). Chapter One: Common media for an uncommon nation. The new media monopoly (pp. 1-26). Boston: Beacon Press.

Facebook Posting #2 (Due by midnight before class)


Fri 8 Feb – Marxist Critical Theory: The Frankfurt School

Read: Textbook Chapter 5


Tue 12 Feb – Hegemony and Popular Culture

Read: MENTOR3-(Williams, 1977)

Williams, R. (1977). 6: Hegemony. Marxism and literature (pp. 108-114). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Facebook Posting #3 (Due by midnight before class)


Fri 15 Feb – Media Ecology

Read: Textbook Chapter 9


Tue 19 Feb – Media Ecology (cont’d)

Read: MENTOR4-(Postman, 1985)

Postman, N. (1985). Foreword, 1: The medium is the metaphor, 2: Media as epistemology. Amusing ourselves to death (pp. xix-29). New York: Penguin.

Facebook Posting #4 (Due by midnight before class)


Fri 22 Feb – EXAM 1 (covers 22 Jan – 19 Feb)


Tue 26 Feb – Media Ritual

Read: MENTOR5-(Dayan & Katz, 1995)

Dayan, D., & Katz, E. (1995). 7: Political ceremony and instant history. In A. Smith (Ed.), Television: An international history (pp. 169-188). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Fri 1 Mar – Media Ritual (cont’d): Social Integration and Social Capital

Read: MENTOR6-(Putnam, 2000)

Putnam, R. (2000). Chapter 13: Technology and mass media. Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community (pp. 216-246). New York: Simon & Schuster.

Facebook Posting #5 (Due by midnight before class)


Tue 5 Mar – Diffusion and Media

Read: MENTOR7-(Gladwell, 1997)

Gladwell, M. (1997 March 17). The coolhunt. The New Yorker.


Fri 8 Mar – Active Audiences: Uses and Gratifications

Read: Textbook Chapter 8




Tue 19 Mar – Active Audiences: Reception Theory

Read: MENTOR8-(Fiske, 2003)

Fiske, J. (2003). Chapter 11: Understanding popular culture. In W. Brooker & D. Jermyn (Eds.), The audience studies reader (pp. 112-116). London: Routledge.

Facebook Posting #6 (Due by midnight before class)


Fri 22 Mar – EXAM 2 (covers 26 Feb – 19 Mar)


Tue 26 Mar – Representations and Media: Gender

Read: Textbook Chapter 6




Tue 2 Apr – Representations and Media (cont’d)

Read: MENTOR9-(Corea, 1995)

Corea, A. (1995). Racism and the American way of media. In J. Downing, A. Mohammadi, & A. Sreberny-Mohammadi (Eds.), Questioning the media (2nd ed.) (pp. 345-361). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Facebook Posting #7 (Due by midnight before class)


Fri 5 Apr – War, Violence, and the Media

No readings assigned


Tue 9 Apr – PAPER 1 DUE

            Informal Paper Presentations

Explanation of survey paper and how to post to PollDaddy site


*Wed 10 Apr @ 7pm (optional) – Your Ad Here book talk @ Fairfield bookstore


Fri 12 Apr – Class Canceled


Tue 16 Apr – Advertising and Culture

Read: MENTOR10-(Jhally, 2000)

Jhally, S. (2000). Advertising at the edge of the apocalypse. In R. Andersen & L. Strate (Eds.), Critical studies in media commercialism (pp. 27-39). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Facebook Posting #8 (Due by midnight before class)


Fri 19 Apr – Culture Jamming

Read: MENTOR11-(Klein 2002)

Klein, N. (2002). Chapter Twelve: Culture Jamming. No logo (pp. 279-310). New York: Picador.

Deadline for posting survey to PollDaddy site (send URL in e-mail to Serazio)


Tue 23 Apr – Guerrilla Marketing

No readings assigned

Deadline to complete your colleagues’ surveys (send completion confirmation URLs in e-mail to Serazio)


Fri 26 Apr – Global Media

Read: Textbook Chapter 10


Tue 30 Apr – New Media


Read: MENTOR12-(Nussbaum & Carr)

Nussbaum, E. (2007 February 12). Say everything. New York.

Carr, N. (2008 July/August). Is Google making us stupid? The Atlantic.


Mon 7 May – EXAM 3 @ 800a (covers 26 Mar – 30 Apr)

            Closing Reflection DUE




All readings will be drawn from either the course textbook or will be available through the Mentor Course Management website.



Croteau, D., Hoynes, W., & Milan, S. (2012). Media/Society: Industries, images, and audiences (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge. (REQUIRED)




Attendance, participation, and informal paper presentations – 3%

8 short-response Facebook discussion postings (2% each) – 16%

3 exams (15% each) – 45%

Paper 1 – 15%

Paper 2 – 18%

Opening and Closing Reflections – 3%


Grading System:


Please consult page 40 of the Fairfield University Undergraduate Course Catalog for point values and letter equivalencies.


3 exams (15% each):


Three exams will be given during the course of the semester.  Each will be comprised of a set of multiple-choice, true-false, fill-in-the-blank, and short-answer questions dealing with the primary themes and concepts of the course.  These will not be cumulative – in other words, each of the exams will only include the lecture material and readings covered since the previous exam.


Opening and Closing Reflections (3%):


For your opening reflection, select two statements out of the list presented below, and write a short reflection (250 to 400 words) discussing whether you agree or disagree with the statements you chose. It is OK to agree or disagree with either of both of the statements you pick, as long as you support your position with reasoned arguments. In articulating your discussion, you are welcome (but not required) to combine arguments based on your personal experience with any relevant concepts, theories, or ideas acquired in other courses, whether from communication or other disciplines.

o   Mass media (i.e., news, entertainment, advertising, etc.) in the U.S. offer to their audiences only what they want.

o   Media users in the U.S. are exposed to more ideas, viewpoints, and perspectives than ever before.

o   The mass media projects an accurate presentation of everyday reality.

o   The mass media exert tremendous influence in contemporary society.

o   People influence media as much as media influence people.

o   Anyone who wants to create and run a successful media outlet in the U.S. can do it.

o   I am highly satisfied with the content I get from mass media and there is nothing I would change about it.


For your closing reflection, take a look at your opening reflection your wrote at the beginning of the semester, and write a short final reflection (250 to 400 words) discussing whether your position (agreement or disagreement) about the statements you chose back in September has changed or not –-why? In articulating your discussion, make sure you enrich your personal opinions by defining and using any relevant concept(s), theory(ies), and/or idea(s) explored in this course throughout the semester.


For both the opening and closing reflection, you should print out and bring a copy to class on the due date as well as uploading it to the Mentor course website.


Paper 1 (15%): Original Media Analysis


Length: 2-4 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1-inch margins


You will write an essay on a particular media text, subject, genre, issue, or audience group using one particular analytic framework (also of your choice) that we’ve discussed in class.  You can select the media topic from a broad range of possibilities across the spectrum of journalism, entertainment, or advertising – in print or audiovisual, broadcast or internet-based form – and it can be as specific or as broad as you like (i.e., comic book films in general or the Batman series specifically; AM talk radio in general or Rush Limbaugh specifically; fashion advertising in general or American Apparel ads in particular).  You are also welcome to analyze the topic arguing from an assortment of approaches we cover in the first half of the semester (i.e., Frankfurt School, media ecology, encoding/decoding, feminism, etc.).  Please choose only one theory or analytical framework to use for your paper (i.e., don’t try to write about the subject using both the Frankfurt School and feminism) and state clearly an original thesis in a nutshell.  You will need to provide some brief background about the subject you are analyzing (the more “popular” it is, the more you can assume I’m familiar), but don’t spend that much of the paper describing it.  What is most important is that you are making a clear, convincing argument about the particular subject using a lens drawn from a theory, concept, or approach in the coursework, demonstrating media literacy in processing mass media material.  The best papers won’t be too descriptive of the text analyzed or the theory utilized, but will rather be balanced and tack back and forth effectively in applying the abstract idea(s) to the specific example(s); also, please be certain that you’re providing some originality and not simply regurgitating points made in class but are instead building upon the ideas discussed creatively in your analysis.  You will be graded on your command of the theory or approach you’ve chosen, the persuasive and substantiated application of it to your topic in terms of your argument, and well-written prose that has been carefully proofread for grammar and spelling.


Paper 2 (18%): New Media and Millennials Survey


Length: 3-5 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1-inch margins


New media technologies are reshaping the beliefs, values, and behaviors of American society.  A generation of young people is growing up as that digital horizon unfolds.  What will be the consequences?  With this paper, you will begin to explore this topic.  First, select a new media form, technology, or practice – you can think of this broadly or specifically to include the internet at large, particular websites (e.g., YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, CraigsList), search engines, blogging, mobile and smart phones, text messaging, the iPod, Photoshop, CGI effects, wi-fi, digital cameras, video gaming and so on.  It can be almost anything from the digital world that surrounds you, but be certain that you choose a particular medium and not content.  (In other words, you could choose to write about the Amazon Kindle but not a Harry Potter book on it; but not 30 Rock episodes there.)  Second, formulate a theory about the relationship between that new media form and a particular set of beliefs, values, or behaviors of your age demographic – you are welcome to think of this from either the lens of structure (what is it that this new media is doing to young people?) or agency (what is it that young people are doing with this new media?).  Now, flesh out that idea with specific questions that you will create for an online survey that will help confirm (or perhaps disprove) your thesis; these can be open-ended or closed-ended questions.  Craft your questions carefully to be sure that you’re asking about exactly what you want to know.  You’ll post your survey to (it’s free and I will explain in class how to do this) and everyone in class will take everyone else’s survey (thus providing you with your data).  From that data, you’ll write up a paper based upon your thesis, your findings, and your conclusions.  You will need to situate your paper within some sort of existing research whether it be theoretical, empirical, technical, journalistic, and/or industry-related – and you must use a minimum of three outside references (including one academic/scholarly source – that is, a book or journal article) in addition to any course readings you might choose to use.  You also must summarize your statistical findings with at least one visual or graphic display – for the display (which can be a chart, graph, etc.), only select one or two of your questions’ data that is most relevant and useful to your argument (in other words, if you had five questions on your survey, don’t try to cram all of that in visually).  Please utilize the reference style of the American Psychological Association (6th edition) to cite in-text and in a bibliography page.  You’ll be graded on the clarity and strength of your idea or argument, your use of existing research, your development of survey questions, clear and well-written prose, and a professional presentation.  Remember, there are no perfect questions and there are no flawless ideas, so you’ll want to weigh all the possibilities when designing your study.


For both papers, you should print out and bring a copy to class on the due date as well as uploading it to the Mentor course website.


Attendance, participation, and 8 short-response Facebook discussion postings (19%):


Students will be expected to attend each class and participate fully in discussions.  In addition – at each marked instance on the schedule – students will be expected to contribute a thoughtful comment to the course page hosted on Facebook.  You can find the Facebook course page by going to:


Then go to the page’s wall and find the prompt for that particular week’s discussion thread to view the field for your responses.  By the designated date and time (i.e., midnight the night before class), please submit a 200-300 word response (approximately) to the readings and bring it to class to use as a reference for our conversation.  I will provide some conversation starters and prompts that you can use in crafting your posting; alternatively, your responses can include questions or criticisms of the material as well as application of the ideas or issues to examples from the media you encounter in daily life or in the media.  You can also respond to earlier comments from your colleagues, but please strive to add something original and interesting to the online conversation. These postings won’t be graded (i.e., A, B, C, etc.); they will simply be assessed as complete or incomplete.  (If you use a Facebook profile that does not include your real name, please let me know if advance so I can be certain to give you credit for your posting contributions.)  The comment page will offer a springboard for our discussions and debates in class and provides an opportunity to keep the conversation going in cyberspace.


*Please note that the in-class presentations of your two papers should be informal in nature.  It is merely an opportunity to share with the class your work and thinking for group discussion.  No additional preparation is necessary for these presentations (e.g., PowerPoint).


Important Points:


Lateness: Posting to the Facebook discussion after the time and date of any of the 8 deadlines will not be considered and will not receive credit.  Course papers that are late will be docked 5% for each day they are late.  Exams cannot be made up without a documented emergency situation. No extra-credit opportunities are available.


Attendance: You are expected to be on time, to attend, and to participate fully in every class.  Lectures are designed to engage students with frequent discussion opportunities and typically toward the end of each class we will spend some time discussing the readings (often based upon your responses on Facebook).  I will bring a great deal of focus and energy to each course session and I ask you to do the same.


Absences: You are allowed to miss up to three classes before the final exam (not counting officially required release time for students participating in University-sponsored events); beyond that, each absence will drop your final grade by one percentage point.  Please note that I do not give out PowerPoint slides nor do I review course lectures with students who miss class.  If you do miss a class, you are responsible for finding out what you missed from a classmate in advance of the next course meeting.


Plagiarism: Consult the Undergraduate Catalog policy on academic honesty – violations of plagiarism will be strictly enforced and may result in failing a paper, examination, the course itself or lead to expulsion.


Students with disabilities: Students with disabilities requiring accommodations and services should contact me and the office of Academic & Disability Services (203-254-4000 x2615).  Cases will be treated with the highest regard for confidentiality.


Fairfield University Writing Center: The Writing Center is a free resource available to all students at Fairfield University. At the Writing Center (located in DMH 255), a trained peer tutor will work individually with a student on anything he or she is writing, at any point in the writing process from brainstorming to final editing. Peer tutors do not write, proofread, or grade papers for students. Instead, they work collaboratively with students to establish priorities, develop ideas, or clarify their writing so that students are better prepared to succeed in a variety of writing tasks assigned to them in academic courses. Some tutors have training to work with students for whom English is a second language. Appointments can be made at the Writing Center website:


Note: The instructor reserves the right for pedagogical purposes to alter the syllabus with adequate notification to students.